Big and Bigger

To everyone of us who has a problem that is much bigger than us, it is not too big for God.  In fact, nothing is too big for God. There was this guy who had everything going for him. He was a millennial.  Good looking. Rich. Ate at the right places. Hung out with the right people. But he had a big problem – he just couldn’t follow Jesus.  He liked what Jesus did, but Jesus was asking much too much of him. After this encounter Jesus said of this, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:23-26) 

Summer Preaching Series 

July 28, 2019

“Big and Bigger” 

Romans 5: 12-19

Rev. John R. Larson 

Ascension Lutheran Church

Littleton, Colorado 

 

Pastor Elmer Lussenhop was good at many things.  He was a good preacher, teacher and administrator in his congregation.  He loved and cared for his people, and they loved him as well. But he wasn’t very good at one thing.  He was a poor drinker. He couldn’t stop after one or two beers. He drank until he was drunk.

One evening he had had a few too many at the bar and got in his car and located a tree.  He was arrested and spent the night in jail. His congregation, Peace Lutheran in Arvada, started hearing about his night. One person called another.  The rumors grew. But the next Sunday Pastor Elmer Lussenhop was in the pulpit and he began with the words, “Everything you have heard about me is true…”  No minimizing what he did. No justification of the events. No reasons why he did such a thing. No. “Everything you have heard about me is true.” He had a problem and it was a big problem.  For a while it made his life, and many others, hell. 

When I asked for sermon topics an anonymous letter came to me in the mail.  It was typed, so I wouldn’t recognize the handwriting. No return address was provided.  It said, “During the Summer of 2019 I would be interested in hearing a sermon prepared and preached on: Original Sin – Does it exist, or not, and its implications.”

Today the sermon is about original sin.  How big is my problem? Am I really that bad?  Or do we make this stuff up?

Lutherans go to the extremes on just about everything.  We don’t spend a lot of time in the middle. Things are either black or white, right or wrong.  For years the only confession of sins that was used in the church of my youth was, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities…”  Poor, miserable sinner. Is that true, or are we just being overly dramatic?

What is this thing called original sin?  Let’s see, I bet it is a sin that nobody, ever, has ever thought of before.  When you do it you are being original, creative, unique, innovative. In fact it is so new you take out a patent on it.  That is what original sin is, right? Wrong.

I think we now say, in that confession of sins, “I am by nature sinful and unclean.”  Original sin – birth sin, inherited sin, Luther called it the “chief sin”. In the Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession the early Lutherans wrote, “So, when they (The Lutheran’s opponents) talk about original sin, they do not mention the more serious faults of human nature, such as ignorance of God, contempt for God, lack of fear of God and confidence in God, hatred of God’s judgment, fleeing from God when He judges us, despairing of God’s grace, putting trust in things of this world, and so forth.”  (Apology, Article II, 8)    

Original sin tells me that my problem isn’t just that I sin but that I am a sinner.  My nature is to rebel against God. My nature is to resist Him. My nature sees God not as a friend but as an enemy.  In Genesis 6 this description of man is given, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Verses 5-6) Jesus talks about the root of the problems that we have when He says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  (Matthew 15:19) Our reading from Romans 5 talks about where the sin problem began, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Verse 12)   

In the Lutheran Confessional writings I read these words, “We reject the teaching that original sin is only a slight, insignificant spot on the outside, smeared on human nature, or a blemish that has been blown upon it, beneath which the nature has kept its good powers even in spiritual things.”  (Formula, Epitome, I. Original Sin, 14)  

The title of the sermon is “Big and Bigger.”  Just as Lutherans go to the extreme regarding sin and its curse, they go to the extreme when it comes to Christ and grace and the miracle of new life.  Sin is big, original sin is big, our problem is big, but God is bigger, greater. The old King James says it clearly, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  (Romans 5:20b)

In this Romans 5 reading the big and the bigger are put side by side, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men.  Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many are made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19) Paul, in I Corinthians continues this comparison between the fall into sin through Adam and the rise into grace through Jesus.  “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22)

To everyone of us who has a problem that is much bigger than us, it is not too big for God.  In fact, nothing is too big for God. There was this guy who had everything going for him. He was a millennial.  Good looking. Rich. Ate at the right places. Hung out with the right people. But he had a big problem – he just couldn’t follow Jesus.  He liked what Jesus did, but Jesus was asking much too much of him. After this encounter Jesus said of this, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:23-26

In the Gospel reading I chose for today, the account of John 3, Jesus and Nicodemus talk about that which is big – Nicodemus’ problem, and that which is bigger – Jesus’ solution.  Jesus told Nicodemus that no one will see God’s kingdom unless he is born again. Nicodemus says that he isn’t going to fit this time into his mom’s belly. But Jesus insists in a new birth, being born from above, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6)

Paul tells us something that is big: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.”  (Ephesians 2:1) James tells us something even bigger: “Mercy triumphs over judgment!”  (James 2:13b)

The person who asked for the sermon on original sin is a well read, intelligent individual.  But they struggle with the thought of that type of sin. They write, “Original sin, along with other ideologies were introduced for political advantage to control the people and ensure the need for organized religion.  Original sin is nothing but a theological construct.”  

I know there are many people who do not believe in original sin.  They struggle with its words about humanity. I know there are a number of Christian denominations who do not believe in it either.  They say that Adam’s sin injured humanity but it did not kill us.  

I believe in original sin.  In Adam all die. In Adam we became sinners.  In Adam we run from God and are covered with flesh.  That is big.

But my God is bigger.  His final word is not that sin, both inherited and done, has the last word.  As in Adam all die; in Christ all will be made alive. Christ is bigger. Grace is bigger.  Forgiveness is bigger.  

On that Sunday at Peace Lutheran in Arvada, their pastor told them, “Everything you have heard about me is true.”  He had a big problem and with a hurting heart he told his people the truth.

What would they do?  Walk out? Call him names?  One of our folks was there that day.  He says, “I remember that Sunday like it was yesterday.”  After recounting some of the specifics he said, “I know there wasn’t a dry eye in church.  It was a total act of love shown by the congregation.”

Elmer Lussenhop had something big – a sin that controlled him.  But he had something bigger – Christ’s forgiveness and the love of his people.

Here are the questions of the day.  Each of us has to give an answer. “Am I really that bad?”  The answer? YES!! But here’s a greater question. “Is God really that good?”  The answer? YES!! Amen!!

 

Let’s sing the first verse of Amazing Grace, (744 LSB).  It is really a song about “Big and Bigger.”

 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see! 

1 comment

  1. Linda M says:

    Thank you

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